Sermon for November 14/15, 2015 -
Vicar Julie A. Kelly -
It’s funny how the news this week sounds like it was written based on the screen play from our Gospel lesson (Mark 13:1-8). Signs of earthquakes, wars, and more.
“Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs. Messing up the scenery, wasting my time. Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the signs.” Tesla sang this song years ago, and it remains an echoing voice for the generations.
Everywhere we look we see signs, don’t we? Depending on whom you speak with, there are signs of destruction, failure, danger, and weakness all around us. Some signs make sense and are helpful, everything from “curve ahead” and “Red sky in morning, sailor take warning, red sky at night, sailor’s delight” to the tread on your tires being below the president’s head.
We love signs and we are always on the look out for them but this is nothing new. We love to get wrapped up in signs and we allow ourselves to be waylaid by the power we believe they hold. In Fiddler on the Roof an entire marriage is called off using the power of signs, signs that did not actually exist, yet, look at the power they wielded!
We also hate signs. We hate signs that tell us to slow down and do the speed limit, that there is closure of our favorite store, that our neighbor is selling their house or that the hurricane is going to wreak havoc; we hate signs. We hate signs of cancer, ending relationships, and to be honest, we hate signs of evil in the world, of hatred and intolerance, signs like Beruit, Paris, and Ferguson. What bothers us more than seeing the signs is how we are to respond. What do we do with them once we recognize them? We have to pay attention and all the right pieces have to be in the right place, and even then, some signs end up a wash or we end up drinking the kool-aid or in a cult in Waco. The fact is, when we let our focus settle on the signs they have tremendous power to scare us, and worse, immobilize us, because if they are true and we are on the wrong side of them we are in big trouble.
And the Bible, oh the Bible is full of signs! Look at the reading from this week in Mark 13:1-8: the disciples response after Jesus tells them all kinds of chaos is going to happen at the temple, is to ask, “tell us teacher, when will this be and what are the signs?”
It is really easy to get caught up in the signs of the lectionary readings as we approach advent. They are signs of the coming Messiah and are meant to be about promise fulfilled and hope, but for the casual reader, they are downright frightening. For Jesus to talk about those stones being toppled was like describing seeing our Twin Towers crumble or Paris under siege once more- impossible. But it wasn’t and it isn’t. So when we read and hear these scary, seemingly impossible signs of the “end times” and Christ’s return, what are we to do? How are we to ‘be’ in response? Sure we have Christ and sure, we can pray, but when you get down to it, how are we to respond while in line at the grocery, listening to the evening news or talking with our family and friends about daily life in the midst of the signs?
The golden nugget answer is hidden in the reading today. Jesus isn’t telling us the signs so we can watch for them. He is telling us the signs so we can live fully and well until that moment comes, so that we don’t get caught up in the signs.
Professors Matt Skinner and Rolf Jacobson from Luther seminary note on Sermon Brainwave that there is some pastoral care happening here. Jesus is trying to tell the disciples that we cannot connect the signs with the events, that instead there is some personal work to be done here and now and folks, let me tell you, it is not watching for signs, it is about paying attention to the one right in front of us.
The opening lines of the movie, Magnolia remind us if we are looking, there are always strange and horrible things happening all the time, the question is not whether they are a sign, rather, how are we to live in spite of them? We can live our entire life looking for and interpreting the signs and we will miss the whole point. We don’t need the signs because we are already given the promise. What matters now is what we do with the gift already given, how we live in the swirl of the signs, surrounded, and in spite of them.
It is said that once asked what he would do if he heard Christ were coming back tomorrow, Martin Luther answered that he would plant a tree. Something so normal, so mundane and something that is all about investment in the future that may not be, and yet, that is what he would have done. Why? Because he understood, as Christ is sharing with the disciples, that we can get caught up and cast out into a sea of signs, but what we do with right now, today, matters far more.
We worship a God who is all about relationship, who is all about presence and promise- don’t you think that the answer might then be that we are to live fully in relationship with one another and Christ in response?
Christ told the disciples that they are focused on the wrong thing- they were focused on the acts and signs, not on the relationship and being with him. When we are busy looking for relationships, we cannot even see that we are not being present in the ones we already have. Christ is calling us to be fully here, fully present, he is crying out, ‘be WITH me!’
If you want to look for signs, then consider this, there is a quote circulating on the internet right now, accredited to Mr. Rogers. It says this: “when I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers- so many caring people in this world.”
These people are the signs folks, they are the signs of Christ, living in and among us, whirling through and around us in the Holy Spirit. These are people who are leaning into relationship with all their person, being fully present and being Christ, rather than getting caught up in the signs that don’t even point to the day and hour. They show us that the only sign that matters is Christ.
How do we respond? We live this life by reminding ourselves daily, hourly, that we are in Christ. Even when we are surrounded by signs of death and warning, even when we are afraid or tired, even when Paris, 9/11, Syria, Beruit, and Ferguson happen, we breath, bear down, and push through the birth pangs into the promise of baptism and live present and purposeful in the power of God the Father, through Jesus Christ his son, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Julie A. Kelly
Vicar - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Sermon for November 14/15, 2015
Written by Julie A. Kelly
November 14/15, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California